Lego pledges to remove 'gender bias' and 'harmful stereotypes' from its toys

Lego currently has distinct product lines aimed at girls, and has pledged to make its marketing and products gender-neutral and "accessible to all".

Children playing with lego bricks.

Children playing with lego bricks. Source: Pixsell

Danish toy manufacturer Lego will no longer market toys at boys or girls distinctly, following a study that found young girls were still being held back by gender stereotypes.

Lego, which has been considered one of the most powerful brands in the world, said the company’s products risked being perceived as being toys for boys instead of girls.

It’s now vowed to make products that are inclusive and “free of gender bias and harmful stereotypes,” in order to change societal perceptions of what genders can achieve.

“The benefits of creative play such as building confidence, creativity and communication skills are felt by all children and yet we still experience age-old stereotypes that label activities as only being suitable for one specific gender,” the company said.

“At the LEGO Group we know we have a role to play in putting this right. The company will ensure any child, regardless of gender identity, feels they can build anything they like, playing in a way that will help them develop and realize their unique talent.”

The decision has been welcomed by those campaigning for gender bias to be removed in marketing.

American media critic and Lego historian Dr Rebecca Hains said Lego’s announcement was an “important step.”

“They’re such a force in the industry that perhaps where Lego goes, others will follow,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

To mark International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October, Lego commissioned new research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media into the impact of gendered products and marketing on children.

It found that girls today feel “less restrained by and are less supportive of typical gender biases” but still feel held back by “society’s ingrained gender stereotypes” as they grow older.

62 per cent of girls surveyed believed some activities were meant for girls or boys, compared with 74 per cent of boys.

Girls were also more open to different types of play that may differ from what is expected for each gender.

The company also found 71 per cent of boys said they were worried about being made fun of for playing with a toy associated with other genders.

Lego is launching its new 'Ready for Girls' campaign.
Source: Supplied: Lego

“The LEGO Group knows that boys are also battling prejudice when it comes to creative play and playing with toys that are traditionally seen as being for the opposite sex,” the company said.

“Our insights further indicate that girls are typically encouraged into activities that are more cognitive, artistic and related to performance compared to boys who are more likely to be pushed into physical and STEM-like activities [digital, science, building, tools]."

The research surveyed 7,000 parents and children aged six to 14 across seven countries - China, Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States.

Lego, founded in 1932 as a wooden toy manufacturer, has historically enjoyed a reputation for providing gender-bias-free products and marketing.

The famous yellow Minifigure design is androgynous and racially ambiguous, allowing users to mix and match elements that distinguish gender.

"What it is, is beautiful." A classic lego advertisement from 1981, which encouraged boys and girls to build together.
Source: LEGO Company

But since the 1980s, the company has also released products that have drawn on gender stereotypes associated with toys.

“Despite having been a gender-inclusive brand in the 1970s, Lego ditched girls to pursue the boy market exclusively in the 1980s, during a time of heavy gender segmentation across children’s marketing and media,” Dr Hains wrote.

“Later, Lego came to regret that they were missing out on potential profits from half the child market, so to bring girls to the brand, Lego launched its gender-stereotypical Lego Friends line meant for girls in 2012.”

A Lego Friends set.
Source: Getty Images Europe

The "Lego Friends" range, which features “mini-doll” figures with distinct genders and use of pink and purple colour schemes, is one the company’s best-selling themes, spawning an animated television series, and has been credited with increasing the company’s reach among girls.

But the line has drawn criticism for leaning on gender stereotypes associated with female toys.

The Lego Friends figurines also have limited compatibility with other Lego bricks and are limited in terms of motion and customization.

In contrast, the company has also released several product lines with original action-based storylines and prominent male protagonists.

Lego has also enjoyed success with licensed products based on popular culture franchises with a reliant on action and adventure, like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Batman, which have traditionally been skewed towards young male audiences.

The company has not detailed what changes it will make to its existing product lines and marketing to remove gender biases.

Published 12 October 2021 at 1:49pm, updated 12 October 2021 at 2:18pm
By Naveen Razik